Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery
Audiology (Hearing Loss) Resources
Below you will find resources to help you navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as apps that can improve access to communication immediately. These apps may not provide a permanent solution, but should improve access to vital information.
As face coverings or masks have become mandatory across the state of Massachusetts beginning May 6, 2020, we expect patients to experience increased difficulty keeping their hearing aids safely on their ears. On-ear devices, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, have the potential of falling off when adjusting or taking a mask on/off. The straps of a mask may interfere with how the device sits behind the ear and can move the device when adjusted, sometimes moving it so much that it could fall off of your ear.
If you wear hearing devices:
- Make sure the devices are on your ear prior to putting on the mask. Adjust the mask appropriately to ensure the straps fall behind the device on your ears.
- Insert and remove hearing devices and your mask in a secure location. For example, avoid inserting/removing devices when outside or when running errands to lower the chances of losing your device.
- Remove the mask carefully to prevent pulling off hearing devices from your ears.
- Consider using a mask with fabric ties, instead of elastic bands, to help relieve pressure on the back of the ears.
- Consider purchasing or making “Ear Savers.” These move the straps of the mask away from your ears to avoid device movement or discomfort.
- If you can manage with minimal difficulty, consider leaving your hearing devices at home when running quick errands.
The above steps should provide helpful tools to avoid damaging or losing your hearing devices. We also recommend reaching out to your hearing care provider for other creative solutions on how to manage wearing your devices with a mask. If a hearing device is ultimately lost, please contact your audiologist regarding the matter.
The use of masks has become mandatory in Massachusetts to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. For individuals with hearing loss, using masks removes visual cues, such as facial expression and the ability to lip read, which can make communication more difficult.
To maximize communication with someone wearing a mask:
- Make sure your hearing devices are on and functioning.
- Speak slowly and clearly.
- Face each other, while also keeping a safe distance.
- Keep background noise to a minimum. Move to a quieter space if possible.
- Take turns when speaking.
- Rephrase remarks when conversation is not understood.
If you find yourself in a medical setting during this time, you may experience difficulty communicating with your medical provider. It is important to communicate your hearing concerns and communication needs with your provider so they can make appropriate accommodations.
To maximize communication in a medical setting:
- Make sure your hearing devices are functioning and wear them to your appointment
- Inform your provider how you prefer to communicate and/or if you require additional accommodations, such as written communication.
- Ask your provider to speak slowly and clearly.
- Take turns speaking and rephrase remarks if the message is not understood.
- Ask your provider to use a communicator mask if you experience communication difficulties; these may not always be available.
- Consider asking for a written summary and/or report from your appointment.
- Request a hearing amplifier if you are without hearing devices or if you are experiencing communication difficulties; these may not always be available.
Felipe Santos, MD presents a webinar on navigating COVID-19 with hearing loss. Topics include:
- Mitigating your risk of infection
- When and how to get hearing help at Mass. Eye and Ear
- What if you need to go the hospital and have hearing loss
- Self-help tips and tricks for hearing loss
Speech-to-text apps will type out what a person is saying directly on the screen of your cell phone or tablet device in the app. The closer the device is to the person who is talking, the more accurate the words will be. The apps suggested below are able to function well in background noise (with the device held close to the speaker's face) and if the speaker is wearing a mask over their nose and mouth, which is more likely during the current COVID-19 outbreak.
Phone call-to-text apps will type out what another person is saying from the other end of a phone call. The text will appear on the screen of your cell phone or tablet device in the app. It is important to inform the person on the other end of the call that you are using an app to help you read what they are saying. There is a delay of approximately 7 seconds between the other person speaking and being able to see the full text of what they have said. Remember that you must also speak into the microphones of your cell phone so that the other person can hear your voice.
Some apps can use the microphones of your cell phone, tablet, or computer to amplify speech and other sounds in your environment. Others directly amplify and personalize sound coming from your smartphone, tablet or computer—for example for hearing on a remote work video conference call (like Zoom), making phone calls, or watching news online. These apps may be helpful for amplifying what other people are saying if you have a hearing aid that is not working, or if you need to schedule an appointment to be evaluated for one. Also, the microphone of the device that is running the app may need to be nearer to the person who is speaking.